Stage Noir Comes To Hartford

Review: Rear Window at the Hartford Stage

by Bobby Franklin

Hal (Kevin Bacon), Thorwald (Robert Stanton), Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton)
Hal (Kevin Bacon), Thorwald (Robert Stanton), Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton)

Rear Window, now playing a sold out run at the Hartford Stage is not an adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie. This version has been adapted for the stage by Keith Reddin from the original story by Cornell Woolrich. The leading chararcter, Hal Jeffries, played by Kevin Bacon, is much darker than the one in the movie. He is an alcoholic who is dealing with many demons that at times lend a dreamlike quality to the play.

I doubt there are many of you who do not know the story, so I will not go into detail other than to describe some of the differences. Instead of a beautiful girlfriend, Hal has Sam, a handsome young African American man who met Jeffries in a bar, though Hal claims not to remember the meeting. The homicide detective is now Lt. Boyne, a homophonic racist who immediately has it in for Sam. The back and forth between the two is not pleasant to watch.

Robert Stanton does a marvelous job of playing Thorwald, the man Hal believes has murdered his wife. He is a milquetoast guy married to an alcoholic woman in a relationship that has no chance of improving.

Sam (McKinley Belcher III) and Hal (Kevin Bacon)
Sam (McKinley Belcher III) and Hal (Kevin Bacon)

The actors in this production are all great, and there is no doubt it sold out before its first performance because of Kevin Bacon. But it is unfair to say this is a hit because of the big name on the marquee. Yes, Mr. Bacon is fantastic in the role, hobbling about on crutches, maneuvering around his flat in a wheelchair, and deducing that a crime has been committed all while he is either drunk or hung-over. The sexual tension between Hal and Sam is also slightly ambivalent as Jeffries has dreams of his former wife whom he confuses with the murdered Mrs. Thorwald, but there is no doubt where his desires truly lie.

The script by Keith Reddin, direction by Darko Tresnjak, and the amazing sets all stand on their own as reasons to see Rear Window.

The Hartford has made Film Noir into Stage Noir

The Hartford has made Film Noir into Stage Noir and the darkness and sultry moods play as well live as on the big screen. Seeing a mystery while already knowing the outcome, or at least thinking I did, is something I thought think would spoil the whole story, but midway through I was not sure I was going to see the same ending as in the movie. This had me moving more to the edge of my seat as the story progressed.

Thorwald (Robert Stanton)
Thorwald (Robert Stanton)

Now to the sets; I have been very impressed in the past by the extraordinary job the team at the Hartford Stage has done, but in this case they have far surpassed even their own high standards. Alexander Dodge has designed a stage that in just a couple of seconds transforms from Jeffries living room to a view into the courtyard where he can see into the windows of his neighbors. Walls disappear and reappear, rooms spin around so they can be seen into and then are neatly tucked back into place. It is just amazing to see. Lighting by York Kennedy and sound by Jane Shaw add so much to the mood of that hot August night in 1947 that I wanted to put my face in front of the one fan in Hal’s apartment to cool myself off. The sound and lights of the train passing outside the window add to the feel of living in a New York City tenement in the days before air conditioning was a household item. Looking at the side of the building with the occupants searching for ways to cool off reminded me of the George Bellows’ painting Cliff Dwellers.

My readers who are fight fans will appreciate how this story fits so well on a stage just as boxing is perfect for the television screen.

This run is sold out and I don’t know if it will move on to another theater or have any performances added at the Hartford. I would urge my readers to sign up to the Hartford Stage mailing list in order to have a chance at any tickets that become available.

Rear Window
Playing at The Hartford Stage
Through November 15th